Mr. Speaker, after more than a decade of arrogance, corruption and dominating federalism on the part of Liberal governments in Ottawa, the election of a new Parliament has created great expectations in the Quebec public, and for some people, a hope of change. The Bloc Québécois, which is a sovereignist party, has wanted those changes for a long time. We are sovereignists because we think that the only real path for the future of Quebec is sovereignty.
But anyone who thinks that it is therefore in the interests of the Bloc Québécois to obstruct change is mistaken. It is out of the question that the Bloc Québécois would cut off its nose to spite its face; that is playing politics at its worst. We will support the initiatives of this government that achieve progress for Quebec. We will do this because we are firmly convinced that anything that achieves progress for Quebec brings us closer to sovereignty.
The hope I spoke of earlier arises largely from the government’s commitments to Quebec. The Prime Minister has committed himself to practising what he calls open federalism. He has promised to respect the “areas of responsibility as defined in the Canadian constitution”. He has promised to offer Quebec its rightful place in international forums where its areas of responsibility are affected, a place that reflects Quebec’s status within the Francophonie.
He has promised to monitor the federal spending power, “this outrageous spending power” which “gave rise to dominating and paternalistic federalism”. Those are his own words. The Prime Minister has also committed himself to eliminating the fiscal imbalance.
The commitments the government has made are central to the battles that the Bloc Québécois has waged in Ottawa since it was founded. I can therefore assure this House and the people of Quebec that we will support any government proposal that will achieve progress for Quebec. We will do everything we can to persuade the government to honour its commitments to Quebec, because, I repeat, I am firmly convinced that anything that achieves progress for Quebec, anything that gives the people of Quebec confidence, will result in them embracing the sovereignist option with confidence. The Bloc Québécois, as it always does, will therefore play a constructive role, in order to achieve progress for Quebec.
The public expects that this minority government will act accordingly, that it will respect the House of Commons and the six out of ten electors who did not vote for it. In Quebec, more than seven out of ten electors did not vote for the government’s candidates. We see a number of things in this throne speech that suggest to us that the government intends to respect the House of Commons in the actions it takes.
However, many adjustments have to be made to what was said and many important matters were forgotten in this Speech from the Throne. We will therefore be making some proposals to the government in regard to a number of important issues. There were also some government plans that are contrary to our convictions and to the best interests of Quebec. We will vigorously oppose them.
We intend, therefore, to help make this Parliament work. It must get down to business because there are crying problems that have lasted long enough and could be dealt with.
The first of these problems is the fiscal imbalance. It is a serious malfunction in the Canadian federation. The cuts and transfers have destabilized the health systems in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada. The fiscal imbalance has also resulted in the drying up of public funding for post-secondary education at a time when education is more important than ever. Now it is the funding of post-secondary education and social programs that is suffering.
Finally, it has led the federal government to waste public funds, even though there were pressing needs in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada. This Parliament has a duty to eliminate the fiscal imbalance once and for all. This means, first of all, a substantial increase in the transfers for post-secondary education, and we expect a clear signal from the government in its next budget.
This also implies a reform of equalization. It must be clear as well that the fiscal imbalance cannot be fixed without a transfer of fiscal resources from the federal government to Quebec and the provinces that want them. Finally, the federal government must give Quebec the right to withdraw from any federal programs in its jurisdictions with full compensation, and this right must be unconditional. The Prime Minister promised to do this as well during the election campaign.
The government can solve this problem, and it should act quickly because the problem has lasted long enough. During the last election campaign, the government promised to eliminate the fiscal imbalance. It reiterated this promise in its throne speech. It is time now to create a program and specify the measures that it intends to take. The government will be judged on the results, and it will not have any excuses if it fails, because with the support of the Bloc Québécois, it has a solid majority in the House that will enable it to eliminate the fiscal imbalance.
This Parliament will also be asked to state its position on Quebec's place in international forums. Since 1965, Quebec has been asking to be directly involved on its own behalf in international relations for areas within its legislative jurisdiction as set out in section 92 of the Constitution. For the past 40 years, the federal government has refused to allow this.
The Prime Minister made very clear promises during the last election campaign. He promised to give Quebec a seat at UNESCO, just as it has as a member of the Francophonie. This means that Quebec would speak on its own behalf and have the right to vote on issues that fall within its jurisdiction. Quebec has this status within the Francophonie. The Prime Minister could use the Belgian model, a model he himself has suggested in the past right here in this House. But according to the Speech from the Throne, Canada will have only one voice on the world stage. This is a blatant contradiction. One might fear that the Prime Minister has already backed down on this critical issue. He also promised to recognize, and I quote, “the special cultural and institutional responsibilities of the Quebec government.” He will therefore have to formalize symmetrical federalism with Quebec.
That will require the government to negotiate an agreement with Quebec. But the Prime Minister went even further: he promised to extend internal jurisdictions internationally. This means that in all areas within its jurisdiction, Quebec will have as much freedom internationally as it does internally. Needless to say, internally, the Government of Quebec can talk to and conclude agreements with whomever it pleases.
Furthermore, to fully keep its promise, the government will have to clearly affirm that from now on it may not negotiate or conclude a treaty affecting the special cultural and institutional powers and responsibilities of Quebec without the consent of Quebec. We will return to this in the days ahead to give the full details, and so bring the government to respect its commitments.
This Parliament will also have to decide how to go about funding child care services. In the last election campaign, the Prime Minister promised to pay $1,200 to the parents of a child under six years of age, to put a stop to the intrusions of this domineering federal government, and to resolve the fiscal imbalance. Yesterday, in the Speech from the Throne, the government was less specific. I hope that this is a sign that it is open to compromise. To judge from its electoral platform, what it is about to introduce will not offer $1,200 to parents. In fact, it will be much less for many parents—because this allowance is taxable—while other parents will see their benefits cut. I am thinking of the child tax benefit and the government support measures for Quebec families. This will particularly affect low- to middle-income families. What is more, this measure constitutes an intrusion into a field of Quebec jurisdiction. Finally, it aggravates the fiscal imbalance, since the government is planning at the same time to tear up an agreement that was supposed to provide Quebec with $807 million over a period of three years.
With a single measure, then, the government is breaking three of its most important promises. As I said, the Bloc Québécois will act as a constructive opposition. So we will propose a modification to the government: convert the allowance into a refundable tax credit. This change will provide parents with close to $1,200 and will be much more respectful of Quebec’s jurisdiction.
Government ministers have promised that the $807 million lost by Quebec with the elimination of the agreement on child care services will be regained once an overall settlement of the fiscal imbalance is reached.
I want to announce to the government that the Bloc Québécois will not agree to the settlement of the fiscal imbalance remaining nothing but an election promise which takes no account of the agreement on child care services that was concluded with Quebec.
One of the government’s priorities is to strengthen the justice system. We have not waited for the arrival of a new government to take action on this subject. The Bloc Québécois was the initiator of the current anti-gang legislation, which has put many members of organized crime in prison. The Bloc Québécois was also the initiator of the reversal of the burden of proof for convicted criminals. Also, if the government is concerned about justice, it should hasten to create an appeal division for refugees, who are presently denied this fundamental right.
Furthermore, the government must promise to conduct an open-minded review of the Anti-terrorism Act in order to achieve the necessary balance between liberty and security. With regard to justice, certain measures proposed by the government are acceptable. However, it should stop trying to convince the public that crime is on the rise, just to advance its political agenda on law and order. Crime rates are falling in Canada and in Quebec. We have the lowest rate of violent crime in North America.
If the government wants to tackle organized crime, fine. However, it will not beat crime by allowing weapons to circulate and simply filling up the prisons. That model is used by the United States, and the result is that many more crimes are committed there than here in Canada.
I therefore urge the Prime Minister to think twice about introducing his program on law and order. I ask him to allow the Auditor General to submit her report before drawing any conclusions about the gun registry. Everyone agrees that the administration of the gun registry is seriously in need of improvement, but that does not mean that it should be eliminated, which would deprive law enforcement officials of a valuable tool and would allow weapons to circulate freely.
As for the remission system, it must not be automatic; rather, it must be earned. The government must go one step further and create an ombudsman position for victims and their families, in order to ensure their rights. We have already made this proposal and we will continue to push it.
As for the age of sexual consent, this Parliament must take the time to carefully examine this issue, for we must be careful not to criminalize relationships between consenting adolescents.
Lastly, the first action taken by the government in terms of security should be to re-open the RCMP detachments that were closed by the previous government, despite the decision made by duly elected representatives.
While Alberta has experienced a fantastic economic boom, with the help of the oil and gas industry, among other things, this is not the case in all regions of Canada and Quebec. The rapid rise in the Canadian dollar, which is largely attributable to the rise in the price of crude oil, has been welcome news for Alberta, but it is damaging the economies of Quebec and Ontario. As well, it is causing problems in the manufacturing sector in Quebec. We therefore have to be concerned about older workers who are losing their jobs; consider an assistance program for older workers; consider all the textile, clothing, furniture, bicycle and fisheries workers as well; consider the entire question of the forestry industry; revisit the negotiations with the United States, remembering that we must not back down, after the victories achieved under NAFTA.
These are areas where the government must arrange to invest and to invest better. I am thinking, in relation to jobs, for example, of its entire aerospace policy.
The government has also committed itself to creating an independent employment insurance fund. We must create that kind of fund, we must make substantial improvements to the employment insurance program, particularly when there is already $1.7 million, to date, stored up in the employment insurance fund, after ten months of the last fiscal year.
With respect to the Kyoto protocol, we want to be clear. The government has to honour its commitments. It must recognize that Quebec has to have its own money to apply the greenhouse gas emission reductions itself, because the National Assembly has made the decision to reduce emissions by 6% below 1990. A polluter-pay policy has to be applied, not a polluter-paid policy. At present, the plan proposed by the Liberals, and judged to be too fast by the Conservatives, means that we in Quebec would be paying for damage that occurs mainly in Alberta and Ontario. We will never agree to such a policy. In applying the Kyoto protocol, Quebec's progress must be respected.
There are other important issues, including the role of the army. A foreign policy still has to be defined and the army must be consistent with the policy established. We are in Afghanistan at present. The Bloc Québécois supported that mission. We have called for a debate. As we speak, I know that the debate will take place and I am very pleased that we can debate this issue. In the past, we wanted to put it to a vote. We have held that vote now, but in future, before sending troops to other countries, we are calling for a vote to be held before the decision is made here by this House. That is what the Prime Minister called for when he was the Leader of the Opposition.
We are very pleased that a vote will henceforth be taken in the House on international treaties. That is a step in the right direction. Three times the Bloc Québécois has proposed this.
The government mentioned ethics. It wants to clean things up in Ottawa. I suggest that it start by ensuring that from now on the returning officers in all ridings are appointed by Elections Canada and not by the government in power. That is one of our proposals.
Let us also keep our promises to the first nations, the Kelowna agreements. Let us negotiate from nation to nation, as was done in Quebec.
We should also realize that there was not a word about culture in this Speech from the Throne. It is important to keep the promise to increase the Canada Council’s budget to $300 million a year. Culture is how we express ourselves as a people. Quebec’s culture is an expression of what Quebec is, and our creative people need help.
I also encourage the government to deal with the social housing problem. Decisions have been made in this House. There is nothing in this regard in the Speech from the Throne. If we want to attack crime, we have to deal with the ghettos and provide decent housing. That is how to ensure that young people do not end up in street gangs. That is one of the measures to take. That is the best way to deal with the crime rate.
I should also say that the budgets that were supposed to be granted to the Acadian and Franco-Canadian communities must be respected. These people need all the support we can give them.
We say therefore to the government that we will support this Speech from the Throne. In conclusion, I would like to introduce an amendment. Afterwards we will proceed issue by issue. Sometimes the government will win here in the House, and sometimes it will lose, without it being a question of confidence. There is no blank cheque. It does not matter to us whether a proposal comes from the government, the Liberals or the NDP. If it is in the interest of the people of Quebec, we will support it. If it is contrary to their interests, we will oppose it. That is how we have always acted.
I will finish by introducing the following amendment, seconded by the hon. member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean:
That the amendment be amended by adding after the words “tax increases” the following:
“, for the lack of a strategy to help older workers who lose their jobs, a strategy that should include income support measures”